Cowichan celebrates $9.5M in flood protection

Happy officials threw their hands up into the air after cutting an official ribbon by the York Road pump station Wednesday, June 25 to celebrate the completion of an important aspect of flood control for a vulnerable part of the Valley.

Governments at all levels were galvanized by the flood of 2009.

A newly expanded and rehabilitated diking system will now provide greater protection against flooding in the area below the Trans-Canada Highway and has been engineered to withstand projected increases in precipitation, experts told a special session held at the Cowichan Tribes Elders Building.

A tour later in the morning showed that during critical flooding events the dikes will provide increased safety for the residents of the Cowichan Valley Regional District, Municipality of North Cowichan, the City of Duncan and Cowichan Tribes.

The $9.5 million project was made possible through $5.16M provided by the federal and provincial governments and $1.19M provided by the federal gas tax fund.

The Cowichan Valley’s local governments provided the remaining funding of $3.15M.

The two-year project created 110 local jobs.

As the high-ranking Cowichan Valley politicians and officials gathered June 25, Cowichan Tribes Chief Chip Seymour hit just the right note in opening the event by saying it was rare indeed to find such agreement among so many levels of government.

Every other speaker, from CVRD chair Rob Hutchins through a list of engineers, politicians and biologists, echoed that sentiment.

Hutchins pointed out that, while making the area safer, the work has also added seven kilometres of side channels to the Cowichan River, offering 66,000 square metres of fish habitat.

Duncan Mayor Phil Kent praised the CVRD’s environment manager Kate Miller for showing leadership when it was really needed to address issues, and said that with everyone pulling together a lot of important infrastructure can now be protected. There is still more work to do and a total of $26 million will have been spent since 2010 when everything is completed.

Clay Reitsma, North Cowichan’s manager of engineering, Norm Olive, the CVRD’s manager of projects, and Miller, all said that accumulation of gravel is a major component in the continuing problem. Miller suggested that a long-term gravel management strategy might be completed by next spring.

A huge logjam was also part of the cause of the flood of 2009.

It was almost two storeys high and took only a year to form, accumulating gravel behind it as it built, Reitsma said.

"And we had only three weeks to deal with it. It was a miracle we were able to do it," he said, referring to the short window available in a river where fish spawn.

Biologist Sherry Ayers, a consultant for Cowichan Tribes, also praised the team effort on getting the job done.

"It’s a really good example of a very thoughtful project in a really challenging situation," she said.

Ayers said that dealing with the Koksilah River is another piece of the puzzle that will need attention soon and there will also be the issue of work encroaching on the Trans Canada Highway to deal with, she said.

Once the group of officials had finished their tour and wound up beside the York Road pump station, Reitsma told them the next phase of diking will go up along Somenos Lake along the Trans-Canada Highway.

"Then we’re going to go across just south of Holmes Creek. There’s going to be another pump station there, called the Canada Avenue pump station, which will be the last of the pump stations on this side of the river. It’s going to be about two and a half times the size of this one. The two together will drain the bulk of this city," he said.

"We have a series of culverts under the dike with one-way valves," North Cowichan Mayor

Jon Lefebure explained. "Normally the water feeds by gravity into the marsh but if it backed up, those valves will close. Then we need to get the water that’s accumulating on this side of the dike to the other side," he said. "That’s what the pump station is for."

Culverts are located all along the dike but a new system is designed to ensure they protect properly, Reitsma said.

"We want to ensure they don’t jam open. The new ones have slide-gates on the dry side so if the flapper sticks open and they see water coming through, they’ll just close them so there’s double protection there," he said, to a quiet chorus of "Oooohh!" from the crowd.

But that’s not all. During the rest of the year, the dikes on the north side of the river will provide safe off-road trails for viewing the Somenos marsh systems and moving between the Beverly area and University Village.

Lefebure has plans for the new trail system.

"It will go up alongside the highway. There will also be some way to get to the Forest Discovery Centre as well eventually. But when it’s sunny, it’s quite hot along here, so I think we can anticipate a day when we have a park along here and some trees and shade as well."

The trails offer great views of Mt. Prevost and Mt. Tzouhalem, said North Cowichan’s engineering director John McKay, who walks by Somenos Lake almost every evening and sees a lot of people walking or biking there.